When asked what the film is about at the beginning of the excellent and artful Oscar-nominated Documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” famed street artist and now documentary filmmaker Banksy takes a moment and replies,
“The film is a story about what happened when this guy [Thierry Guetta] tried to make a documentary about me, but he was actually a lot more interesting than I am. So now, the film is now kind of about him. I mean it’s not Gone with the Wind, but there’s probably a moral in there somewhere.”
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” starts off as a thorough, often amusing take on the beginnings of street art, a cultural art movement likened to the punk scene. Self-proclaimed documentarian and Los Angeles based French immigrant, Thierry Guetta, started filming his French cousin, Space Invader, as he created and displayed “space invader” mosaics all over Paris. Thierry then graduated to all the big names in the street art scene – Monsieur Andre, Zeus, Ron English, Swoon, Borf, and Buff Monster.
Back in LA, Thierry continues filming and hooks up with Shepard Fairey (known for his Andre the Giant – Obey posters, and recently for his iconic Obama Hope poster). Finally, Thierry lands his missing link, the mysterious Banksy, whom he widely admires. When Banksy comes to LA and needs an assistant, Thierry jumps at the chance.
But being in the right place at the right time to document Banksy and the rise of street art has a crazy effect on Thierry, as it does on the art world at large.
After Banksy’s sensational “Barely Legal” show in LA, auction houses begin selling street art for extraordinary sums of money. If you are a serious collector, you have to have a Banksy. But Banksy never thinks his work is about money or hype, so he tells Theirry it’s time to release his film so that the world can understand what street art is.
But Thierry is not a filmmaker. Sure he shot thousands of hours of footage, but he doesn’t really have an editorial vision. He creates a mash-up called Life Remote Control which Banksy compares to watching a video remote control flipping through 900 channels. So Banksy takes over the film.
But then Thierry takes over the role of artist, dubbing himself Mr. Brainwash. Soon Mr. Brainwash has a studio, a staff, hundreds of produced pieces of art, all culminating in a huge, successful, “Life is Beautiful” show.
Which begs the question for Banksy as well as all of Thierry’s fellow disgruntled artists, what is art? Thierry wasn’t like most artists who started off small. Instead Mr. Brainwash arrives with a bang, making over a million dollars off his first show.
A former Banksy representative sums it up best regarding Mr. Brainwash’s success, “I’m not sure who the joke’s on. Maybe there isn’t a joke.” “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a documentary that brilliantly explores the question of “What makes a work of art?” It’s a question that the film’s viewers and art lovers can debate long after film has ended.
To read about Banky’s art hitting LA in time for Oscars, click “Banksy’s art hits LA coinciding with ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’s’ Oscar push” below.